STEM internship offers hands-on experience to students 

SRE Meet and Greet
SRE Meet and Greet
Ten undergraduate students will gain valuable research experience and mentorship this year through the Guam NSF EPSCoR Student Research Experience.

Ten undergraduate students will gain valuable research experience and mentorship this year through the Guam NSF EPSCoR Student Research Experience. The students, most of whom had never participated in a STEM research program were welcomed to the program during a meet-and-greet session on Dec. 17, 2021. 

The program is designed to increase the number and diversity of students, particularly from Pacific Islands, who choose STEM careers by giving them the skills and confidence needed for academic and career development. 

Each academic year, undergraduate students from the University of Guam and the Guam Community College are selected to participate in the year-long program and choose a research project, collect data, and then prepare a research paper and presentation of their findings.  

Depending on student interest, training in molecular laboratory skills such as DNA extractions, polymerase-chain reaction, DNA sequencing and analyses may be part of the internship.  

“I’m excited to experience more hands-on work. Because of COVID, labs closed and that made it difficult to learn these skills,” said Lynn Galang, a UOG undergraduate integrative biology student. “I’m just excited to get more experience.”  

Over the course of the program, Galang will be mentored by Sarah Lemer, a UOG assistant professor of marine invertebrate genomics in the Marine Laboratory.  

As part of the internship, the students will participate in near-peer mentorship programs that will allow them to interact with high school, undergraduate, and graduate students who are a part of Guam NSF EPSCoR and with the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance program. 

“This program is like a year-long interview, said Cheryl Sangueza, a UOG Associate Professor of Education and the Guam NSF EPSCoR Student Program Coordinator. “It opens the door to opportunities off-island like conferences and other research experiences.”  

For more information about the Guam NSF EPSCoR Student Research Experience, visit https://guamepscor.uog.edu/sre/ 

Newly discovered diatom species named after UOG researcher  

Eponymous Diatom Photo 1
Eponymous Diatom Photo 1
A newly discovered diatom species was named after Christopher Lobban, a University of Guam professor emeritus of biology.

After naming around 80 diatom species since he started researching them in 2007, a newly discovered diatom species has been named in honor of Christopher Lobban, a University of Guam professor emeritus of biology.  

Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers and are considered important primary producers.  

Funded by the university’s Guam NSF EPSCoR grant, Lobban researches and catalogs diatom species found throughout the coral reefs and mangroves of Micronesia. 

According to the study, the new species, Druehlago lobbanii, was named after Lobban in recognition of his extensive and lasting contribution to marine and tropical diatom research. The paper was published in December in the peer-reviewed journal Phycologia.  

The new diatom species was discovered in a tidal flat in South Africa by Roksana Majewska, the lead author of the paper. Lobban was informed about the naming of the species just a few days after the start of the new year.  

Eponymous Diatom Photo 2
The diatom, Druehlago lobbanii, was named after Lobban in recognition of his extensive and lasting contribution to marine and tropical diatom research.

“Usually, species are named after their characteristics. When species are named after people, it’s to honor them for different things such as their contributions to the research or personal importance,” said Lobban. “After naming so many diatom species from Guam’s coral reefs, I guess it was just a matter of time before someone would name a species after me.”  

Lobban is the co-author of the genus Druehlago, which he named after his doctoral mentor Louis Druehl in 2016. Druehlago lobbanii and Druehlago craspedostauriformis join Druehlago cuneata as three members of the genus.  

According to Lobban, he’s grateful to share this honor with his mentor.  

“A few years ago, when I was naming some new genera, I wanted to honor the people who guided my work,” said Lobban. “I thought of Louis Druehl because he got me into diving and helped me get through to my Ph.D.” 

Five students accepted to STEM summer research program

Bridge Program Photo 4

Five undergraduate students will gain valuable research experience this summer through the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Bridge to Ph.D. Program, an eight-week research program held at Pennsylvania State University.  

From June to August 2022, the students will be trained for a future as a Ph.D. student, learn about coral physiology, and gain hands-on experience in biological techniques such as DNA and RNA analysis.  

For these students, it will be their first time participating in an off-island research program.  

“I am looking forward to learning more about myself. This is roughly a two-month program that is planned to be in person, so this will be the longest time I will be away from home without my mom,” said Louise Pascua, a biology major and a 2022 Guam NSF EPSCoR student researcher. “It will be a very fun and interesting journey not just scientifically, but also personally.” 

While at PSU, the students will practice basic oceanographic techniques aboard the UMCES flagship research vessel Rachel Carson and strengthen their science communication skills by participating in outreach activities. 

Over the course of the program, the students will be placed in a Penn State research laboratory to do independent research and be mentored by the laboratory principal investigator, their students, and staff.  

Hands-on experience  

Pascua will focus on mosquito virus interactions and arthropod genetic manipulation under Jason Rasgon, an entomology professor at PSU. 

Gabriella Prelosky, a biology student and a 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow, will study the foraging habits of honeybees and alfalfa leafcutter bees under the mentorship of Natalie Boyle, an assistant research professor at PSU.  

“I genuinely look forward to working with a topic outside of my comfort zone,” said Prelosky. “I’ve been looking at different topics that don’t focus on marine biology, and I’ve been increasingly more interested in topics of ecology and now entomology, and I look forward to exploring this discipline.” 

Anna Aguirre, a biology student and a 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow, will study plant pathology and environmental microbiology under Sharifa Crandall, an assistant professor at PSU.  

“I’m very excited about the research I will do because the topic is one of my great interests. I think this experience will also be unlike any other because I’m attending it off-island with my friends for a whole two months,” said Aguirre.  

Merry Remetira, a civil engineering student and a 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow, will study lab analyses of biomechanics of swimming jellyfish with Margaret Byron, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at PSU. 

“I feel very grateful to my mentors and peers from the EPSCoR program and my high school marine biology teacher who have made it possible to make me apply and for broadening my experiences,” said Remetira.  

While at PSU, the students will have the opportunity to interact with students from other NSF SEAS jurisdictions.  

“I am so honored and excited about being accepting into this great program,” said Anela Duenas, a biology major and 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow. “I am most excited to meet my peers from other SEAS hubs such as the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico!”  

During the program, Duenas will study vegetable crop science under the mentorship of Francesco Di Gioia, an assistant professor at PSU.  

About NSF INCLUDES 
The NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance is administered by the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant programs in partnership with the School of Education at the University of Guam. UOG faculty members Austin Shelton, Cheryl Sangueza, and Else Demeulenaere serve as investigators of the grant award. NSF INCLUDES collaborates closely with the Guam NSF EPSCoR program, also funded by the National Science Foundation. 

UOG students present and network at STEM diversity conference

Louise SACNAS

Four members of the Guam NSF EPSCoR undergraduate Student Research Experience and five research fellows from the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance program presented their research at the 2021 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Digital Conference from Oct. 25 to Oct. 29, 2021.  

SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, is the largest multicultural STEM diversity program in the US.  

During the conference, the students were able to attend workshops, research presentations, and connect with officials from schools nationwide for research experience opportunities.  

“I feel great that I got to present at SACNAS,” said Louise Pascua, a UOG undergraduate biology student. “I wasn’t sure if we were going to finish in time for the conference because we had a lot of difficulties, but everything worked out in the end. I’m glad I got to show everyone all the work I’ve been doing this past year.”  

Through the Guam NSF EPSCoR undergraduate Student Research Experience, Pascua was mentored by UOG Professor of Biology Daniel Lindstrom. Pascua’s presentation entitled, “Genetic Barcoding of all Amphidromous Nerite and Thiarid Snails Native to Guam,” focused on determining whether or not certain species of snails were native to Guam.  

“I feel very thankful and appreciative that a student with my background was able to present at this conference,” said Merry Remetira, a UOG undergraduate civil engineering student. “Everyone has been very kind.”  

UOG Assistant Professor of Oceanography Atsushi Fujimura mentored Remetira for her Student Research Experience. Remetira’s project, “The Relationship between Seagrass Cover and Water Physicochemical Parameters in Achang Bay, Guam” focused on determining water quality and environmental factors that affected the growth of seagrass on Guam. According to the study, seagrass meadows are beneficial ecosystems that provide habitats and food sources for many marine species.  

During the conference, the students were able to connect with organizations and colleges for research opportunities. 

Representatives from Texas A&M University and Iowa State University reached out to Pascua and Remetira about their work. 

Boston University, Rutgers University, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography were among several institutions that contacted Gabriella Prelosky, a UOG undergraduate biology student, about research experience opportunities.  

As an NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance research fellow, Prelosky was mentored by Christopher Lobban, a UOG Professor Emeritus of Biology. Her project, “Biodiversity of mangrove diatom communities in three Western Pacific islands” focused on documenting the most frequently occurring diatom species in Guam, Palau, and Yap. Through her project, 13 new species of diatoms were recognized. Earlier this year, Prelosky discovered two potentially new diatom species from Yap.  

“A lot of people reached out to me to check out their programs and even my dream school messaged me! It was a lot of fun and it’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get to experience,” said Prelosky. “I feel really lucky.” 

The NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance is administered by the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant programs in partnership with the School of Education at the University of Guam. Austin Shelton, Cheryl Sangueza, and Else Demeulenaere serve as investigators of the grant award. NSF INCLUDES collaborates closely with the Guam NSF EPSCoR program, also funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Merry R SACNAS
“I feel very thankful and appreciative that a student with my background was able to present at this conference,” said Merry Remetira, a UOG undergraduate civil engineering student.

Researchers discover four new species of marine algae

New Algae Species Photo 4

University of Guam researchers have discovered four new species of Crustose Calcifying Red Algae (CCRA), a group of marine algae that deposit limestone like stony corals — including one that has been named after the UOG Marine Laboratory in honor of its 50th anniversary.  

The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was published in November by the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.  

CCRA are a dominant and diverse group of organisms on Guam’s reefs that are difficult to identify and have sometimes been mistaken for coral. They serve several important ecological functions on reefs such as building and cementing reefs together or serving as the preferred settlement substrates for coral larvae which then further develop into adult colonies. 

Since 2017, more than 500 CCRA specimens have been collected from numerous sites around the island. A number of those specimens represented six species of red algae belonging to the genus Ramicrusta. Four of these species are new species to science and Guam now has the highest documented diversity of Ramicrusta species in the world. 

“In other parts of the world such as the Caribbean and Taiwan, certain Ramicrusta species are known to overgrow and outcompete other reef organisms on disturbed reefs,” said lead author Matthew Mills, a UOG alum and Marine Laboratory research associate. “Given their ecological importance, we decided to investigate them into detail.” 

Naming the new species  

The four new CCRA species were named after the CHamoru names of their type locality, which are the collection sites that were used to describe the new species. 

Two of the new species were found in Pago Bay. Ramicrusta labtasiensis was collected from the seawater intake channel behind the UOG Marine Laboratory. 

“We wanted to highlight the Marine Laboratory’s 50th anniversary, which happened last year,” said Tom Schils, a UOG Professor of Marine Biology and the co-author of this study. “Most of the anniversary celebration events were canceled because of the pandemic, so we thought it was fitting to name this new species after the Marine Laboratory for all the important biodiversity work that has been conducted at the unit since its founding in 1970.”  

Ramicrusta taogamensis was named after Taogam Point, which delineates the northern boundary of Pago Bay.  

The other two new CCRA species were found in Talo’fo’fo. Ramicrusta adjoulanensis was named after Adjoulan Point, which is located at the mouth of Talo’fo’fo Bay. Ramicrusta asanitensis was named after Asanite Cove, also known as First Beach.  

“This species is a common alga at this popular beach in Ipan,” said Schils. “As a seaweed biologist, I had always been bothered that I could not identify this alga from a beach that we visited often with the family. Now, we have finally resolved that this is a new species of a genus that had previously not been reported for Micronesia.” 

Mills and Schils are currently working on a larger diversity assessment of CCRA from Guam.  

“Before we started our studies, the only in-depth survey of CCRA on Guam was done in 1975,” said Mills.  

Schils added, “CCRA play an important role in the community changes that we are witnessing on Guam’s reefs. Resolving the diversity of this group is a first step in understanding their contribution to reef health.” 

New Algae Species Photo 3
Example of a common and abundant calcareous red alga from Guam’s waters.

Students present and win at STEM conference

New Diatoms Photo 1 3

Five undergraduate NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance research fellows from the University of Guam joined over 1,300 scientists and researchers from all over the world at the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) 2021 Conference which was held virtually from Nov. 1 – 4 and 8 – 11, 2021.  

This year’s conference theme was “CERF at 50: Celebrating Our Past, Charting Our Future.”   

During the conference, students had the opportunity to interact with peers, network with mentors, and attend workshops and panel discussions.   

Among the delegation, UOG students Gabriella Prelosky, Britney Sison, Anela Duenas, Daniel Mabagos, and Anna Aguirre presented student posters of their research projects.  

Prelosky and Sison won the only two “CERF 2021 Best Undergraduate Poster Awards” for their research projects which concerned the documentation of different diatom species in the Marianas.  

Both Prelosky and Sison were mentored by Christopher Lobban, a UOG professor emeritus of biology.   

“Receiving an award for my work is amazing! There was a lot of effort done through both me and Dr. Lobban and it really paid off,” said Prelosky. “Knowing UOG took the only two “Best Undergraduate Posters” is amazing.” 

Sison said that her experience being mentored by Lobban has made her a better scientist and is thankful for receiving the award.  

“I feel happy and extremely grateful to my mentor, Dr. Lobban, Gabby, and everyone from the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance Program,” said Sison.  

The NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance is administered by the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant programs in partnership with the School of Education at the University of Guam. Austin Shelton, Cheryl Sangueza, and Else Demeulenaere serve as investigators of the grant award. NSF INCLUDES collaborates closely with the Guam NSF EPSCoR program, also funded by the National Science Foundation.  

 

UOG researcher discovers new diatom species in Micronesia

New Diatom Discovered Photo 2

Christopher Lobban, a University of Guam professor emeritus of biology, has discovered an interesting new species of diatom from the Marshall Islands. His discovery is in addition to two potentially new diatom species found earlier this year by UOG student Gabriella Prelosky and five potentially new species by UOG student Britney Sison. The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was accepted in October for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Diatom.

Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers. They are considered important primary producers on Earth. According to Lobban, diatoms produce an estimated one-fifth of oxygen in the air we breathe.

The new species of diatom, Licmophora complanata, was named for its flattened cell wall. According to Lobban, the diatom was found in a sample of algae from Majuro Atoll that he collected in 1990. Licmophora is a genus of benthic diatoms. Diatoms within this genus are common and epiphytic — meaning that they perch on seaweeds, like orchids perch on trees.

“It’s a really odd-looking Licmophora,” said Lobban. “Licmophora are sort of people-shaped. They have a top and bottom and a front and back. The dead shells can usually be seen in the front and back views, but this one was always giving me a side view.”

Lobban was able to thoroughly examine the specimen once the Microscopy Teaching & Research Laboratory, which he runs, received a new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) through the EPSCoR grant in May 2021.

“The microscope has a stage that allows you to tilt it up to 80 degrees while examining a specimen,” said Lobban. “When I did that, I was able to see its shape, which is actually kind of complicated.”

According to Lobban, this is not the first time he has named a species of Licmophora.

“It’s not a huge genus and there are not many people working on it in the world. Most of the species here seem to be new to science. This is the 16th Licmophora I’ve named,” said Lobban, “and I’m not done with them yet. I’m working on a paper now with seven more species. It and several of the others have student coauthors.”

Study explores evolutionary stability of coral photosymbiosis

Coral Photosymbiosis Photo 1
Coral Photosymbiosis Photo 1
UOG alumnus Jordan Gault wrote “Lineage-specific variation in the evolutionary stability of coral photosymbiosis,” which was published in September 2021 by the journal Science Advances.

A study by University of Guam researchers has examined the evolutionary stability of photosymbiosis in scleractinian corals. The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was published in September in the peer-reviewed Science Advances journal.  

Scleractinian corals, also called stony corals, are the hard corals that are typically seen as reef-building corals found in shallow, tropical waters that receive nutrients from the photosymbiotic algae living in their tissues. In exchange for nutrients, the algae support the calcification of coral skeletons, encouraging the growth of expansive reefs in shallow tropical and subtropical waters. Photosymbiosis is a type of symbiotic relationship between two organisms that includes one that is capable of photosynthesis.  

However, half of the order’s members are non-photosymbiotic and tend to be small, not colonial, and are found in deep waters.  

“The origin of the order has been shrouded in mystery. When scleractinian corals first appeared in the fossil record, they were already highly diversified,” said lead author Jordan Gault, a UOG alumnus who wrote the paper for his master’s thesis. “There’s evidence that some of them were photosymbiotic, but where did they all come from? If they’re diversified already, there’s evolutionary history that goes further back that you cannot see in the fossil record yet. That’s one thing we’ve set out to understand with this study.”  

Coral Photosymbiosis Photo 2
Scleractinian corals, also called stony corals, are the hard corals that are typically seen as reef-building corals found in shallow, tropical waters that receive nutrients from the photosymbiotic algae living in their tissues. This photo of a scleractinian coral was taken in Apra Harbor by David Burdick, Guam NSF EPSCoR’s Biorepository collections manager.

The study reconstructed the evolutionary history of photosymbiosis in Scleractinia by applying mathematical models to phylogenetic trees, which are diagrams that show evolutionary relationships. The phylogenetic trees included 1471 of the 1619 recognized species in Scleractinia.  

“There are certain groups where the association seems to be almost irreversibly stable. Those two partners are bound to each other for the whole group and they thrive and die together while others may be more flexible,” said UOG Associate Professor Bastian Bentlage, the co-author of this study. “There may be some lineages – if they’re not as tightly integrated with the photosymbionts – that may be less susceptible to a breakdown of these relationships. That’s really cool in terms of understanding the dynamics of what we see on our reefs in a changing climate.”  

At first, the project faced delays because the initial simulation studies took a long time to run on the computational resources that were available at the time. To address these issues, the research team used the Open Science Grid, a network of computers spread nationally that allows open access to high throughput computing for research in the U.S.  

“Facilitating this study meant relying on this grid that was able to run hundreds of thousands of individual simulations,” said Bentlage. “That wouldn’t have been possible with a desktop computer. Having access to this high-speed computing grid was very essential to finishing it off.”  

As part of the Guam NSF EPSCoR’s strategic plan, the program is working on establishing a computation hub at UOG.  

Prior to pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Oldenburg, Gault spent eight years at the UOG Marine Laboratory pursuing his thesis research and working for the long-term coral reef monitoring program. He said that getting the paper published feels like closing a chapter in his life.   

“It’s nice and a little bittersweet. I’m proud of the work that we did and I’m happy to have it out there. The question is now: is it useful for other scientists? Does it matter going forward? The best outcome is if it somehow shapes some research down the road. If people address our results and ask questions further down the line, I think that would be excellent,” said Gault.  

UOG alumnus creates mural for professor

Constance Mural 1 2
Constance Mural 1 2
Constance Sartor, a UOG Master of Science in Biology, poses next to the giant clam mural she painted for UOG Assistant Professor Sarah Lemer.

The University of Guam Marine Laboratory has a new addition to its collection of murals — an assortment of giant clams (Tridacna maxima) in the office of UOG Assistant Professor Sarah Lemer.  

The mural was painted by Constance Sartor, a University of Guam Master of Science in Biology. Sartor has been under the mentorship of Lemer since 2018 as part of the university’s Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistantship.  

According to Sartor, Lemer wanted a mural in her new office that was related to the work being done in the Lemer Invertebrate Genomics Lab, which is studying various marine invertebrates to better understand how they response to climate change and reef degradation. 

“I chose giant clams because I find them so naturally beautiful with their vibrant colors and different patterns — there are so many different phenotypes within a single species — so I thought they’d be perfect for her new lab,” said Sartor.  

Sartor worked on the mural while Lemer was off-island, hoping to surprise her once she arrived back on Guam. The mural took 10 hours to complete.  

“When I came back and saw the extent of what she did, it was fantastic,” said Lemer. “I’m really happy that I’ll always have this. Wherever she goes, I’ll always have this from her.” 

Graduate student participates in artist-at-sea program 

Artist at Sea Photo 1

Constance Sartor, a University of Guam Master of Science in Biology and a Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, participated in the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Artist-at-Sea program over the summer, which provides artists an opportunity to work side-by-side with marine scientists during a research expedition.  

From June 5 to July 9, Sartor spent 34 days onboard research vessel Falkor with 39 researchers and crew members as it traveled to the Phoenix Islands Archipelago, a group of coral atolls in Kiribati.  

During the expedition, the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) SuBastian descended as far as 2000 meters to collect deep-sea organisms within the Phoenix Islands Archipelago.  

“When you’re in a shallow reef, there’s so much diversity like fish and corals but when you get down where there’s no light, everything is kind of like a desert,” said Sartor. “It takes a while to find a tiny coral. There are not many fish so it’s like a treasure hunt. It’s surprising when you find something cool.”  

Sartor worked with the scientists to photograph and measure the samples collected by the ROV.  

In preparation for the voyage, Sartor brought more than 50 magazines with her to create upcycled collages based on the photos of the samples.  

“I advocate ‘upcycling’ because it helps keep some of the items out of landfills,” said Sartor. “Rather than using paint, which comes in disposable plastic or metal tubes, I like to give a ‘new life’ to magazines that would otherwise be thrown into landfills.”  

Out of the hundreds of samples collected over the course of the voyage, Sartor created 8 magazine collages of the unique starfish, crabs, corals and other deep-sea organisms collected by the ROV using magazine images of flowers, a sunset, and clothing.  

The body of works Sartor created are now a part of the Artist-at-Sea program’s traveling exhibit, which features art made and inspired by the work done on the Falkor.